Files are marvelous inventions-- if retrieval is your aim. But stash a file deep in a filing cabinet, and you have just invented a neat, organized way to forget.

That, alas, is what I have managed to do for at least six months to a manila folder full of very special names. They belong to Washington-area residents who have quit smoking cigarettes.

Last year, I wrote a series of columns about smokers and smoking in our fair city. The idea was to inspire those of you who still smoke to give it up -- once and for all.

I promised at the time to publish the names of any and all puffers who quit by taking part in a recognized program anywhere in the area. I renew that promise now. The idea was and is to appeal to the egos of smokers. Cancer scares and harrowing statistics obviously hadn't been enough to make many smokers quit. So I decided to try the old name-in-lights routine. A little publicity in The Washington Post might just turn the trick.

It worked. Names trickled in steadily. I stowed them in the Famous Forgetful Folder. The other day, while on a spring cleaning binge, I groaningly came upon it.

With apologies to all of you who have waited so long for well-deserved recognition, here's the list:

The American Lung Association of Northern Virginia lists these 13 recent graduates of its Stop Smoking Clinics: Mary Summers, Glora Robinson, Sid Balcom, Pat Long, Dave Cope, Paul Westphal, Donna Josephson, Lillian Chamberlain, Overton Day, Dick Wilson, Arline Cohen, Barbara Stambaugh and John Pitchford.

Another ALA class, held in Fairfax, produced these chin-held-high graduates: Barbara Bowker, Fred Bowker, Joseph Boyle, Margaret Crenshaw, Jane Donovan, Marco Filippini, Douglas Fort, Alfred Hansch, Julie Hansch, Brenda Jones, Robin Mathews, Steven Mathews, Elizabeth McElroy, Margaret Mills, Amoret O'Rourke, John Patterson, Nancy Sawicki, James Smith, David Spargo, Goldie Stetten, Jim Stoneback, Maureen Tuttle, Charles Wauhop, Norma Martin and Patricia Romero. Good work, gang.

The Butt-Out program, headquartered in Arlington, reclaimed these folks: Carole Sherman, Wendy Beaver, Emily Mueller and John Vincent O'Neill. Congrats to all four, and to instructor Bob Bookman.

Becky Stroebel, then of Northwest and now of North Carolina, kicked the habit through Smokenders. The Virginia Division of the American Cancer Society helped wean Gay Fichter, Caroline Parr and Robert Weaver, all of Arlington. And Estelle Holmes of Capitol Heights says that quitting became a family affair with her husband Gilbert, his brother Eugene, his sister Rose and Rose's husband Lewis. All four quit last April.

J. Theral Summers of Southeast cold turkeyed last year, thanks to the D.C. American Cancer Society. Ruth Weldon of Silver Spring undid a 45-year habit while dieting -- figuring that if she was going to get her waistline into shape, she might as well do the same for her lungs.

Frank Harris of Gaithersburg stopped smoking after 31 years. And two offices produced quitters: Byron Bernstrom and Peter Rich of the Department of Agriculture (through Smokenders) and Andi Gerber, Betty Keller and Sally A. Munk of The American Trucking Associations, Inc. (through the D.C. Cancer Society).

Finally, these Northern Virginians have quit since September 1982, through the Smoke Stoppers program at Alexandria Hospital:

From Alexandria, Patrick H. Moore, Helen Moyer, James A. Dorsch, Rachel Kopel, James Corbalis Jr., Margaret Holtzclaw and Doris Gazin. From Annandale, Meredith Senold. From Arlington, Robert L. Fortune and Thomas Ryan. From Falls Church, Richard M. Bash. From McLean, Phyllis A. Fortune. And from Springfield, C. R. (Bob) White.

Great work, all of you. I know how hard it was, having busted loose from the habit myself nearly five years ago. I also know how richly your health will repay you. You had the guts to try it -- and the persistence to scale the mountain at last.